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UMass or Ivy League?

  1. Jan 20, 2006 #1


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    I'm really asking one question: how would these two people compare to a grad school admissions officer or employer?
    1.) Bachelor's degree from UMass Amherst, double major Math and Computer Science, minor in physics or extra enriching math courses, summa cum laude, excellent GRE math and good GRE compsci
    2.) Bachelor's degree from UPenn, math major, 3.0 GPA, excellent GRE math
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2006 #2
    sorry, double post.
  4. Jan 20, 2006 #3
    Looking at those two people, I would say I'd be more impressed with the first. First of all, the undergraduate programs at ivy league institutions are the same as at public or lesser private institutions. Also, there is the notorious grade inflation issue that the ivy league faces, and a 3.0 GPA at UPenn is not that impressive.
  5. Jan 20, 2006 #4

    This is mostly true. However, as your contention that the programs are the same: The curricula are pretty much the same from one University to another. However there is a difference between getting an equivalent education about the world's best mathematicians and getting one from the world's best mathematicians.

    I agree that too much emphasis is placed on the brand name of Ivy league schools by students. As you pointed out, Ivy leagues tend to have inflated grades (Stanford, while not Ivy league, is notorious for this, med schools will basically ignore your grades entirely if you went to stanford, because grades are so ridiculously inflated. Although, i heard this from a professor who got her PhD at Berkeley....)

    However, the value of learning from some of the best scientists and mathematicians in the world is very very high (though i can't think of anyone at UPenn off hand). Take Princeton, with John Wheeler, who taught students including Richard Feynman and Kip Thorne. The faculty are what make a good program, not the curriculum, because curricula are almost always the same.
  6. Jan 20, 2006 #5
    The faculty at a prestigious institution also will not be interested in teaching, or mentoring undergraduate students a lot of the time. A smaller more tight nit ugrad school more focused on teaching might be a better choice for ugrad. However, or grad school a more prestigious research school might be a better option.

    Now, Princeton might be an exception, since it is an ivy league school focused on teaching, and a ugrad student might benefit from guys like John Wheeler.

    If I had to choose from those two people, I would almost certainly pick the first.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2006
  7. Jan 20, 2006 #6
    This is probably true in many cases. The point I was trying to make however was about the real value of going to such a school. Its not the brand name or the curriculum, its the faculty.
  8. Jan 21, 2006 #7


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    Well, what I would think it is is the students. Classes at the top schools can and do cover more because the students are more capable of handling it. Courses at lesser schools feel kind of like used hand-me-downs. For example, one course I took last semester was the equivalent of a course taught five or ten years ago at MIT, except we only went 2/3 as far in the book and probably didn't go into as much depth on what we did do.
  9. Jan 21, 2006 #8
    I suppose that is true. I took a differential equations course last summer, which was supposedly equivalent to MIT's DE course and while my class covered almost all of the same material, many topics were covered in much more depth in MIT's course. (I watched the video lecture on MIT's site). For example, concepts like convolution at my school were just explainations of what convolution is, whereas the MIT course covered some very interesting applications of convolution. Also, MIT's DE course covered some concepts that weren't covered until I took adv. eng. math (the next class beyond DE) at my school. This could possibly be due to my DE course being in the summer, so it was a bit condensed, and the fact that I had a professor that moved a bit slower than the other DE professors (still a great professor though.)

    I will agree though, that a more prestigious school will have students that are more focused and interested in learning what they are studying and enagaging in interesting conversations about academic subject matter outside of class, whereas students at a lesser school might only be there because they are forced to be there, or because they simply want a "good job." I could be wrong about this though, too.

    Sometimes I feel like I chose the wrong school to study electrical engineering, because most people don't seem to care at all about engineering and are just going to school to get a high paying job. I was hoping for there to be more students genuinely interested in the subject matter, and less people gonig solely for the purpose of getting a job. I considered for a brief while transferring to UM - ann arbor (#5 EE program in the country...I am from Michigan, so UM - ann arbor was a natural choice) and was under the impression that students there would have a different attitude, but after talking to some people there that are in the EE program, it seems that UM students are no different. They perform in class, but they are not genuinely interested in the subject matter enough to have insightful and thought provoking conversations outside of class about the subject. This is all somewhat depressing to me, really. It seems people studying physics have a different attitude than engineers, however. I am beginning to feel like the issue for me is the major I chose, and not as much the students. Don't get me wrong, EE is extremely interesting to me, but I was hoping for my classmates to be equally interested.

    All in all, I think the major affects the quality of the student more than the institution...in addition, for ugrad, I believe a smaller teaching-centric atmospheere is more beneficial...however, for grad school a bigger, more prestigious research school is a much better choice.
  10. Jan 21, 2006 #9


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    Funny thing is, UMass is actually a fairly big, prestigious research school for computer science. I read somewhere that its computer science graduate program is #25 in the country. Unfortunately that doesn't trickle down to me the undergrad so much.

    I don't care about the size of the school or the intellectual companionship of professors and students. Nice to have, but you can do without. Just sort of "having" a famous professor doesn't help you learn the material any better, and while talking to fellow students may be thought-provoking, it's not worth changing schools. I'm really thinking about the comprehensiveness of the courses.

    If you don't mind my asking, leright, where are you going to college?
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2006
  11. Jan 21, 2006 #10
    Yeah, I'd say the first candidate would be stronger, based on what you listed, especially since UMass itself is a prestigious school.

    To answer your question, I attend a small engineering university (about 3500 ugrads and about 1500 grad students) that is little known on a national scale (you've probably never even heard of it), but is very reputable and prestigious in the Michigan industrial sector (mostly automotive industry). I am studying electrical engineering, and I might double major in engineering physics, but I have yet to decide on that, since it is a big decision that will add a lot to my work load and time to degree completion.

    The university is called Lawrence Technological University. www.ltu.edu
  12. Jan 21, 2006 #11


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    Well, LTU seems to be about the same quality of school as UMass.

    Looking up the schools got me thinking, though. There's a program called five-college-interchange that will let me take courses at Amherst College as if I were taking them at UMass, with no fees besides course and lab fees. I don't know why I didn't factor that into my decision before. I won't have the brand-name but I'll have the education.

    I'm still worried though that the name UMass won't land me as good a job or grad school as some more well known one. But I think I can get over that.
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